Adam and who now?
January 24, 2013 9:45 AM   Subscribe

How do atheist or otherwise non-religious parents teach their kids about the Abrahamic mythology?

I'm an atheist who was raised Catholic. I'm raising my daughter without religion. She has occasionally been to church with my parents. When she was younger, if asked, she would say that she was a mix of Catholic and atheist, that she half believed in god and half didn't, but now she straight up doesn't believe.

That's all fine. I'm good, obviously, with her being an atheist. What I'm less happy about is that she has almost no knowledge of the standard bible stories that I think of as just being part of the culture. I made a joke recently about Noah and the ark and she had no idea what I was talking about. A couple nights ago she was talking about "that lump boys get in their throats when they're teenagers" and I told her it was called an adam's apple, "you know, like Adam and the apple" and she was totally mystified.

Even though I'm not interested in religious teaching, I do think my kid should be familiar with her culture's central mythology. I guess I thought those stories were common staples that she would just pick up somehow, but apparently that's not the case, since she's about to turn ten and has only just learned about Adam and Eve.

I have a friend who was raised by atheists that made her attend church every Sunday for years, specifically so that she would learn about the mythology and culture. When she was old enough to say she got it, she didn't have to go any more. I'm not willing to do this because I don't want all the other stuff that goes with it. Plus, there's no way I'm going to church. She doesn't go with my folks any more because she's not interested, and I'm certainly not going to make her.

Are there any resources that teach those old testament stories without the overlay of moralizing? I do get that moral lessons are part of the stories, it's the free-wheeling editorializing I can do without. She's not a kid who is going to sit down and read the bible, but it seems like children's bible story books are not at all what I'm looking for.

In other words, I guess I am looking for books and movies (and etc.) that tell the stories of the Abrahamic tradition the way books tell the stories of Greek and Roman mythologies. Or strategies to make up for that deficit.
posted by looli to Religion & Philosophy (44 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't worry too much about it. I once had to tell the Samson and Delilah story to a fellow soldier who ran an explicitly Christian non-profit organization and worked with the chaplain every Sunday. She'll pick it up, or she won't. These "common" stories that all kids learn are becoming less so as more parents like you and I aren't sending our kids to Sunday school every week.
posted by Etrigan at 9:51 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had an awesome children's book that had all the major bible stories in it. As a kid I LOVED it, the pictures were so colorful and the stories were interesting. Looking back I'm pretty sure my mom rolled her eyes when I said I wanted to read that one every night.

I'm positive my grandparents bought it thinking that it would make me believe or something but really it just seemed like any other story book I had as a kid.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:53 AM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I grew up with one agnostic parent and one parent who was raised Unitarian Universalist, which meant I attended the local UU church for this sort of knowledge. If you have a local UU church, they tend to be very atheist/agnostic-friendly, and the youth religious education programs focus on learning about all religious traditions, including the Abrahamic religions.

If you're not interested in attending, their bookstore also has resources for children, as well as a book on Biblical literacy.

My parents also put The Religions of Man on my summer reading list one year.
posted by pie ninja at 9:53 AM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm a Jew who was raised secular (so not exactly, but effectively atheist, and I never had formal religious instruction.) I had a Children's Bible as a kid, which was one of my favorite books. It just told the stories adapted for kids -- just language, not content -- no moralizing or annotations of any sort, just what happened to Noah here and what Samson did there. I am almost entirely this version available in English is what I read (albeit in Russian.)

My other favorite books were a collection of Russian folktales about brave warriors fighting giants and wizards, Greek and Roman myths, and one other collection of folktales from around the world (including many creation myths.) My family never made a distinction between any of those, so I grew up appreciating Bible stories the same way I did all the other fiction I read.
posted by griphus at 9:53 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

You could just tell her the stories yourself and preface them with "here's what the people believe." But I don't see why you can't just give her a book of Children's Bible Stories with the explanation that "here's what other people believe," and explain why you're giving it to her - that you don't believe it's true, and she can make up her mind about whether it is or isn't herself, but in the meantime they're stories a lot of other people have heard before ("like when I was talking about the Adam's apple and you didn't know what I meant, remember?") and you thought maybe she'd want to hear them too.

You know? Get her a regular book of Bible stories, but present them to her as being stories. Lots of times that's how Christian kids process it themselves anyway (I did sit around reading the Bible now and then as a kid - but not because I was being especially pious, but because my seven-year-old-mnd was being blown by just how extremely trippy the Book of Revelations is).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:54 AM on January 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

Honestly, I'd just tell them to her the same way you'd tell her what happened to someone on a holiday. Just tell them to her. On long car rides, or at bedtime, or whatever. Bible stories for children almost always have that moralizing layer - it's good for their character, dagnabbit! - so I'd steer away from them.

King of Egypt is really the only Bible move for kids I can think of that's just a movie about a myth.

That said, you don't say how old she is. Some books of mythology include Abramic myth in them very much the way that they contain Greek or Shinto myths, but they tend to be geared towards older kids and adults.
posted by Jilder at 9:55 AM on January 24, 2013

I had two children's books when I was young that, like magnetsphere, were beautifully illustrated and read exactly like fairy tale books. I would go to a book store and look through the children's bible section for books that are like that.
posted by royalsong at 9:57 AM on January 24, 2013

Another agnostic Jew here (raised in a mixed Christian/Jewish home). I learned most of my explicit religious knowledge from various media sources: Pee-wee's Christmas Special (which featured a nativity play), the claymation "Adventures of Mark Twain" which features an Adam and Eve retelling, Shari Lewis' One-minute Bible Stories, and so forth. We had a children's illustrated bible of the sort that griphus mentions; the only place where I ever felt like there was much religious moralizing was in the Jesus-son-of-God stuff and my Jewish mother quickly disabused me of that notion.

The best idea is probably to read stories with her and have conversations about it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:57 AM on January 24, 2013

Best answer: At my actively secular private grade school we read The Story Bible by Pearl S. Buck. From the description:

The beloved author of The Good Earth, one of the world's greatest literary masterpieces, viewed both the Old and New Testaments as glorious stories to be read and reread through the is for everyone, regardless of one's religious views.
posted by lalex at 10:00 AM on January 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

As others note, I wouldn't assume even folks brought up by ostensibly religious parents would have all the references you're talking about. Tackle instances aand refences when they come up; maybe atsome point suggest your child read the Bible and Qur'an in a "Bible as literature" frame of mind?
posted by aught at 10:01 AM on January 24, 2013

I have never been to church a day in my life, and I'd wager I know about (at least) as much about Judeo-Christian culture as your average American churchgoer. I think it all comes from reading literature and enjoying art.

I think the best education might be a trip to your local art museum, with you narrating some of the stories as you look at some of the paintings. For good measure, I'd be sure to swing through the classical section to give some sketches of the Greek and Roman gods.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:07 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Whether or not God is real, the belief in God / gods has shaped humanity.

I strongly suggest you start teaching her about humanity's innate need for meaning, and how stories can help us across thresholds / put our lives in perspective.

Joseph Campbell is a great reference, and books like 'the power of myth' and 'the hero with a thousand faces' will do wonders for exposing your child to the folk wisdom in all cultures.
posted by jalitt at 10:10 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

My husband, a graduate of a well known New England prep school and a British university, couldn't name the 12 apostles when I met him. How he got through English Lit is a mystery to me. I think a working knowledge of the King James version is extremely useful, and I'd suggest working your way through it, either by listening to an audio version or a kid's book of Bible stories. You don't have to believe it's the word of a deity to appreciate the language, the tales/parables and so on.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:10 AM on January 24, 2013

In 9th grade my tiny school got an influx of Jewish students when the local Jewish high school closed. My atheist ass ended up explaining to a group of them the story of Jesus when they asked me in December what all the "lawn gnomes" were for.

They seemed to get on just fine without Christian mythology in their lives otherwise, so I'm sure your daughter will be fine.

That said, it can't hurt to give her an illustrated book of children's bible stories if you want. Those are pretty benign. (I had a number of them growing up, which I read, and it didn't affect my beliefs either way.)
posted by phunniemee at 10:12 AM on January 24, 2013

I plopped myself down in the children's section of our local library and just pulled out everything that looked interesting...and then did it again a few months later...and did it again a few months after that. At one point, I'd found a succession of short books about Noah's Ark, all in different styles, with small differences from one to the next. The great part about that is that it sparked a conversation with my son about how these are stories just like all the other stories we can find in the library.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:15 AM on January 24, 2013

Jewish atheist raised by Jewish atheists raised by Jewish atheists, etc. My parents might have mentioned some of that stuff, I can't remember. I doubt it. But I do remember when I was quite young I had a book I loved (with cool illustrations!) about ancient mythology from all around the world. It had bible stories, Greek and Roman stuff, Native American stories, maybe Norse, and some others. Later, on more serious level (though not extremely in-depth) I took a class in High School (elective in the English department) called Myth and Bible. It covered, IIRC, Greek mythology and the Old and New Testaments.

Then in college (drama major, lots of Christian references in Shakespeare and other plays) and further reading on my own I learned a bit more. (I'm still regularly confused by Christian theology and customs though.)

So basically it was presented to me from a young age as "old stories that people used to believe in and that formed an important foundation for subsequent literature and culture."

I'd say just go to the library or bookstore and look at mythology books for kids. I have no idea what the one I had was (though it was huge and had a yellow cover and I kinda wish I still had it) but I'm sure there are many others out there.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:20 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll join the crew, as someone who was raised Catholic and has now strayed, in that most of my knowledge of those parts of the Bible that have become cultural reference points came from reading children's story books of Bible as mentioned above, at a young age. That's how I learned them, that's how they stuck in my mind, and later on in my teens when I actually read the Bible (skimming the "begats") it was only the language and detail that changed, not the essence. I'd say it's not a bad idea to read some, presenting them as stories in the same vein as folklore and mythology, and being clear that they're just like other ways of telling more complex stories. For example, Ganesha's Sweet Tooth as an introduction to the Mahabharata.

Our response to questions is often "let's look it up" and we'll go and check a few sources - but having a book on hand that she can take away and explore herself on her own time, or when you're not always there to guide her, is something to consider. A book of Bible stories is easier to digest than me quickly skimming Wikipedia or other sources and then attempting to be succinct in my explanation. But I always like to encourage her to look things up along with one of us, because as we explain: parents don't know everything, information changes, and she may be interested in different aspects than we'd think to present.

(Our time to explain some to our daughter came after she realized she had no idea who all the people in "Hard Headed Woman" were, though she's loved that song since she was a baby.)
posted by peagood at 10:23 AM on January 24, 2013

I had a similar moment with my kids. I liked Tomie de Paola's Tomie's Little Christmas Pageant (a lovely board book) for the Nativity/Christmas legend, which respectfully explains all the details without ever crossing over into dogma. I notice he also has a well-reviewed book of illustrated bible stories, with text taken directly from the bible. I have not seen this book in person, so am not sure if it reads as neutrally as Little Christmas Pageant.
posted by apparently at 10:27 AM on January 24, 2013

My wife and I, non-believers and recent parents, have been discussing this as we both grew up in nonreligious families and found that we lacked the necessary background to deeply understand a lot of religious mythology references in literature, classes, etc. I've been thinking about ordering this book for when our daughter is old enough to start wondering and asking about religious stuff she hears from her friends at school.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:28 AM on January 24, 2013

Can grandma and grandpa tell her about it? I'm a raised-Catholic athiest too and I figure when little llama is older grandma is going to be only too happy to tell her what she believes. And we can then (and probably long before then) talk about 'different people believing different things and what do you think?'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:29 AM on January 24, 2013

I had an illustrated book of Bible stories, d'Aulaire's Greek myths, and d'Aulaire's Norse myths, and I gave them all equal weight. That is to say I LOVED THEM SO HARD, but knew they were just stories.
posted by arcticwoman at 10:34 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sunday School. Nothing makes better atheists, and more biblically knowledgable atheists.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:34 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Why not do Bible readings at home? My folks did. We talked about the stories, the idea of a diety, etc.

We're Jewish, but not observant, and my parents thought I should be conversant in my religion, for which I 'm grateful.

When my babysitter offered for me to sit in on her Catechism class, I was thrilled, and I learned a lot about Catholisism.

So when I became an English Major in college, I had a frame of reference for all of that allegory, and bible verses, etc.

The Oxford Study Bible is great because of the footnotes.

Then you can do Egyptian, Norse and Greek mythology. It's all good.

If you teach the Bible as a work of literature, it's really helpful and interesting.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:51 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

My kids-version-of-bible-stories books were presented in the same category as the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, Norse, and Japanese mythology books I had. There was no belief presented, just "These are stories that people in these countries know and tell."
posted by erst at 10:59 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does your daughter read?

If she's a reader, and you guys don't heavily monitor her reading material, she'll pick this stuff up through osmosis. Especially nowadays, what with google and wikipedia and stuff, where she doesn't have to come upon a Bible Stories For Children picture book, but just see an allusion to something she doesn't get and look it up.
posted by Sara C. at 11:00 AM on January 24, 2013

Count me as another kid whose parents didn't really go to any effort re religious education (Islam, in my case). As a pre-teen, I gleaned all of my religious/mythological knowledge from children's books about religion/mythology. I read various Greek myths, Aesop's fables, Bible stories, Mother Goose nursery rhymes, 1001 and Nights, and Grimm's fairy tales at more or less the same time, from a couple of children's compilations. If she's a big reader, just give her a few such compilations, and let her work her way through them. If she's not, read a couple a night with her. I wish I could give you the title of the anthology I read, since I really loved it and it covered a wide range of stories, but it's sitting on a shelf at my parents' house and I can't remember anything else about it other than that the cover was blue.

As for movies, I really, really loved The Prince of Egypt as a kid, which covers the story of Exodus. I still think it's a pretty great animated film, and has excellent music too. I didn't find it to be especially preachy, other than in making the Egyptian religion obviously "wrong."
posted by yasaman at 11:01 AM on January 24, 2013

Make sure that you are ready to discuss the myths.

Recently I read several versions of Noah's Ark to preschoolers. Their questions afterwards put me on the spot, since I could not justify the punitive, punishing God who flooded the earth. I ended up saying that God gave the earth three chances, and they didn't learn their lesson, so he scoured all life from the earth to start over. But I couldn't explain why all the innocent animals had to die.
posted by ohshenandoah at 11:10 AM on January 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the answers so far. Just to re-iterate and clarify: my daughter is almost ten, so she does read, though she's too old for picture books. If I'd gotten on this when she was 3 or 4, there'd have been a wealth of options.

I'm not worried about philosophical conundrums or her spiritual growth. She's not asking religious questions that I can't answer, she's comfortably atheist and when she brings something up that religion might cover we either talk about it philosophically or look at the science.

I'm specifically looking for resources that will familiarize her with the stories as stories. After I posted, I realized that what I was looking for was one of those For Beginners graphic non-fictions and felt dumb for not realizing how obvious that was. Only--tellingly--they don't do one on Judeo-Christian myth (though they have Islam, Eastern Religions and, coming soon, Greek Mythology).

Thank you lalex and pie ninja, those are exactly the kinds of books I am looking for. And I'm going to start lobbying the For Beginners people.
posted by looli at 11:38 AM on January 24, 2013

I'm agnostic, raised in a family of lapsed Catholics and Wedding and Funeral Episcopals. Part of the reason I identify as agnostic is because I care too little about the implications of whether or not there is a god to actually decide that there isn't a god.

I asked to stop going to Sunday school at six, which I think was mostly free babysitting. As such, I have an incredibly remedial knowledge of the Bible. While I know Adam and Eve, and that Noah's Ark had two of every animal, that's about it.

I'm well aware that I know less about Christianity than the average American. But I also know less Spanish than the average Hispanic, despite Spanish being my first language. That know-it-all ten year old in me hates that I have blindspots, but it honestly doesn't affect my life at all. Part of life is not knowing stuff. And the more you learn, the more apparent it is that there's still more to learn.

You pick up your cultural literacy by living. I don't think it's something that you need to work at. Either you're drawn to it, or you're not, and both scenarios are okay. So long as she's curious about something, it's okay for her to go through life not knowing about the bible.
posted by politikitty at 11:43 AM on January 24, 2013

She'll pick up a lot of the basic stuff by osmosis as she grows up and is exposed to more books and movies and discussion. A child's story book could be nice - my grandmother gave me one, and I did learn some random cultural things from it.

I also went through a period of learning more about religion on my own when I was a bit older than your daughter, thirteen or so, and my parents rightfully encouraged that even though I think they were secretly holding their breath worried I'd get religion. If your daughter hits a place where she is curious about religion, or realizes that she's missing out on things she wants to know, she can and will seek that stuff out when she has a need for it in her life. She hasn't missed some critical window for doing this, at her age.

That said, there's still a lot of stuff I miss. (Like right now. Adam's apples are named such from the Biblical story? Really? It never even occurred to me to investigate why they're named that, and you kind of just blew my mind.) So if it's really important to you that she know these things, then you're probably on the right track seeking it out.
posted by Stacey at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I went to Catholic school growing up and I never made the connection between Adam's apple the body part & Adam from the bible. WHOOPS! Guess a formal bible education only does so much. Also I'd add that references to the bible will pop up and your daughter's own intellectual curiosity will have to do the bulk of the work there. Or like, watch Jesus Christ Superstar. These are my suggestions.
posted by SassHat at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2013

I don't know if this is what you're looking for but we're agnostics. However we took our kids to the Unitarian Universalist church in our area - not every Sunday but every once in a while. They did a good job without proselytizing of explaining the basics of religious beliefs. There are a couple of atheists that go to this church who do so without askance. It gave our kids enough to go by - we did use the Dorling Kindersley (even with teens) books regarding religion to answer any other basic questions. The DK books are easy to understand without being judgemental. The more esoteric stuff we didn't even try.
posted by lasamana at 11:57 AM on January 24, 2013

I was raised by "agnostic" parents who grew up in the 1950's. My father's parents and extended family were devout Baptists from the Prairie. My mom grew up in a small, isolated town on the rain coast, just south of the Alaska panhandle. Her family (my grandparents) had strong connections to the local Norwegian Lutheran community.

However, neither of my parents are religious, probably because on my father's side the religion was too austere and oppressive, and probably on my mom's side because she was raised by her father, who wasn't particularly religious himself.

So, the only religion I got growing up was from television, a neighbourhood kid whose parents were fundamentalists, and movies like Rosemary's Baby and the Amityville Horror.

One or two of my teachers in elementary school also did bible reading. But, thankfully, I never had to go to church, and can look at religion pretty objectively (I'm neither devoutly religious, nor devoutly Dawkinist).

So, I felt bad when my son, at eight or nine years old, had no idea who or what "god" is, or who "Jesus" is. Part of this is the fact that my wife is from Japan, so these concepts are not part of everyday life (although, interestingly, my wife's uncle is one of the few Japanese Christians, and my wife has been interested in Christianity).

But Christianity doesn't enter our daily lives.

On the other hand, we have a lot of Buddhist art around our house. When we return to Japan, we do the things you're supposed to do, notably in regards to honouring the memory of ancestors. We've taught our sons to "pray" in front of the Buddhist altar, and to clean the family graves.

But these are cultural practices, and are not religious practices, and I've always thought that it's ridiculous to "become" a Buddhist - Buddhism is a way of life that you pick up from society and parents - a very internal thing that is cultural and not intellectual like Christianity.

So, I wouldn't bother trying to explain who this buddha is, and who that buddha is, although I do tell my son that he very nearly died from sepsis after being born, and during those dark times we made an offering to an old and venerated statue of Yakushi-nyorai, a "buddha of healing", and we still have the amulet we received. Not sure if he gets it.

I think the only thing that I try to do is to make sure he doesn't curse, and say stuff like "Oh my god" etc etc, since those are very powerful words that should be spoken with reverence.

It will be interesting to see what spiritual path my sons take.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:01 PM on January 24, 2013

I grew up with one agnostic parent and one parent who was raised Unitarian Universalist, which meant I attended the local UU church for this sort of knowledge. If you have a local UU church, they tend to be very atheist/agnostic-friendly, and the youth religious education programs focus on learning about all religious traditions, including the Abrahamic religions.

Just a word of caution about the UU religious education route. My wife is certainly a well educated and well read person, however due to her UU upbringing she has absolutely no point of reference regarding biblical references. That may seem like not a big deal, but it makes things like Shakespeare and other historical works dripping with allusions a real chore to read. While I suppose this route is better than none, it just doesn't provide more than a simple base line survey of a major aspect of Western civilization.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2013

I had the same thing when my daughter was about this age, and I got an Usborne children's bible. It was too young for her, but IIRC the older kids' version was sort of too much information or maybe a bit more religious or something. I just wanted her to know the greatest hits, sort of, and even though the book we got seemed aimed at younger kids and was a picture book, that was almost a benefit - it was a relatively quick read, she wasn't terribly interested anyway (although she got the point of the exercise), etc.
posted by you must supply a verb at 12:55 PM on January 24, 2013

I had a comic book bible that I absolutly adored as a kid. We were raised catholic, but I never really put together the bible that we read in chuch and that crazy giant comic book with all the fighting.

I really dug it.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:32 PM on January 24, 2013

Sorry it wasn't the DK books we used - it was Usborne sorry for the mix up
posted by lasamana at 2:12 PM on January 24, 2013

We found the DK children's bible stories book was something our son read without our prompting. It's aimed at ages 10+ so it may be suitable for your daughter. In addition to the familiar stories the book also had notes on archeology, geography, culture, etc. which put the stories in context. Best of all there was zero moralizing. If you do go the children's bible route, make sure to skim the book first, because many of them have little editorials, like how Adam and Eve's "sin" in not following God's rules led to them BEING CAST OUT OF EDEN FOREVER and THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU so you must ALWAYS OBEY THE LORD YOUR GOD. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but not by much. I realize we could have had discussions about the editorials, but it seemed like that was adding another layer of potential confusion. IMHO this is an important aspect of cultural literacy (at least in the Western world) and your daughter will probably find the stories interesting to discuss with you.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2013

If you want her to become acquainted with some of these stories, why not just read the Bible. It's all right there. The book is just an incredible collection of mythologies and images and histories and ideas. Remind her that Yahweh was originally a Babylonian storm God, because it makes sense of all the thunder and lightning and the importance of weather in the Old Testament. She can compare Yahweh to other gods associated with natural phenomena like Poseidon.

If you search you can find some good easy to read translations. The New International Version is a common one, but I like The Message which aims to capture the books of bible with the liveliness of the original language. How's this for a gripping beginning to a cool creation story:

"First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss."

The language in The Message translation is really good, energetic and contemporary and should be an easy read for any kid. Just search for Noah or Adam or Goliath and read away.
posted by salishsea at 5:04 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another Jewish atheist here. I did go to Sunday school for a few years around that age (8-11, I think) but that pretty much stuck to Genesis. The rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament I picked up by going to lots of art museums and getting the audio guides and asking my mom whenever the audio guides just assumed I knew a story. Also reading annotated versions of Shakespeare and other writers who use lots of Judeo-Christian references. I pick up just as many, and sometimes more, religious references as the people around me who went to (Christian) Sunday school as children.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:08 PM on January 24, 2013

And to tuesdayschild's point, the original Bible doesn't have a lot of that moralizing in it. Sure people who break laws get punished and there is lots of genocide and fighting and warnings from God to people to be good, but it doesn't transfer outside of the story. Nowhere in the bible does it say "let this be a lesson to you daughter of looli!" I mean, someone does a bad thing and THEY get punished and the story ends. Too often these "easy to read" reduxes of Bible stories are like gateway drugs for moralizing, and it's no way to introduce anyone to the stories in those old books.
posted by salishsea at 5:08 PM on January 24, 2013

Response by poster: tuesdayschild, your link just directs back to my question, so I'm not sure what Dorling Kindersley book you were trying to direct me to. But you made me curious which led me to their Illustrated Bible, which is exactly, exactly what I'm looking for (I think, based on what I can see on that web page). If you meant something else, can you link to it again for me? Thanks!
posted by looli at 5:24 PM on January 24, 2013

Two overlapping approaches suitable for your daughter (and you):

The Hollywood mythology is all most Americans really know and all they really need to know. Download a few files (for educational purposes only, of course), make some popcorn, and watch The Ten Commandments (1956, Charlton Heston), Ben-Hur (1959, Charlton Heston), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965, Max von Sydow), Samson and Delilah (1949, Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr), The Bible (1965, dir. John Huston), Barabbas (1961, Anthony Quinn), The Robe (1953, Richard Burton), etc. She'll also get a nice education on film before her time (and yours) and you'll both have a good laugh at some of it. Perfect for a lazy Sunday morning on the couch when the Christians are sitting in their pews. You can talk about how the movie doesn't quite reflect the original myth or likely realities -- for example, supposing there was a Jesus, what would a guy born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago have looked like?

And people -- biographies, characters, not history -- are what will interest her most. Hollywood knows that (see above). She will learn most about the ark story by empathizing with the women on the ark and imagining the sounds and smells that they would have experienced. Imagine being in this vast ship full of strange frightened animals in the middle of an endless storm at what looked like the end of the world, and then finding yourselves the last people in the world -- God has drowned every other man, woman, child, puppy, and kitten, and has selected only you and your little family to reboot the world with the children you bear and raise and the menagerie you rode out the storm with. How would she feel? And you could also talk about how the Jewish and Christian flood myth closely follows the older Mesopotamian version described in the Epic of Gilgamesh. (By the way, the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu is fascinating and moving.)
posted by pracowity at 12:11 AM on January 25, 2013

> For Beginners graphic non-fictions and felt dumb for not realizing how obvious that was. Only--tellingly--they don't do one on Judeo-Christian myth

The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament. My 10-year-old wanted to know the Bible stories and picked that up. It's pretty weird.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2013

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